Startup Spotlight: QAZ.com

A fast online directory service with advanced addressing techniques

QAZ.com is an aspiring online directory service that for the first time ever is allowing users to quickly access specific information by means of advanced addressing techniques.

If you are looking for a car or a holiday, now you can go straight there by just typing the word into the Web address followed by QAZ.com.

More than 1,500 Web sites have already been reviewed and added to the QAZ directory. Searches are carried out generically, with the whole system being made up of a lot of very simple aliases. Although often faster than Yahoo.co.uk or Altavista.co.uk, the search engine currently works through a fixed look-up, making it unable to recognise misspellings.

Steve Homer, founder of QAZ.com is an established UK technology journalist, who has written for The Independent, Time Magazine and ZDNet. techTrader spoke to Steve Homer about his decision to enter the dotcom war. We asked him how he expects QAZ.com to survive amongst the host of search engines that we already have at our fingertips... First off, that command line search...

Are people going to learn how to use a command line search engine?

I hope so, but it's going to be a real challenge to get people to use the URL. We've had over a hundred registrations so far, to whom we will be sending weekly newsletters on how to use the site. Registered users will also have a cookie in their browsers, so that we can detect how people are coming into the site, enabling us to inform them if they aren't taking advantage of the fastest route.

Why should people use QAZ.com? Do we really need another search engine?

The site is designed to achieve two things -- the main aim being fast searches. For the thoughtful person the site also contains fully comprehensive site guides that are intended to be your helper around a Web site. If I can train people into spending a couple more minutes reading up about the site that they are going to, I will have met my intention.

I want to satisfy 95 per cent of "I want to find a Web site that...". I'm not after the last 5 per cent -- I'll leave them to play with Yahoo! QAZ has the advantage of being fast and independent. Someone aptly described it as being "not in your face".

I'll give QAZ a year, and if in a year's time it hasn't found favour, I'll kill it stone dead!

Where did the idea for QAZ.com come from?

I had a girlfriend in California, and had tried finding the contact details for a florist in her locality via the Internet, without having much luck. From this came the Global GiftGuide.com, which cuts out the middleman and the cost of transportation.

In the mature market that I now believe the UK to be, I realised that I was throwing away a lot of good product opportunities such as CD's. I wanted to set up a site that would be made up of a collection of linked micro-portals. The idea that I have is to make each page much broader -- i.e. for the subject of gardening, gardening advice will be given and then a directory to recommended sites.

How do you plan to compete with these well known search engines?

I don't intend to compete with Yahoo! etc. I can't outspend them on advertising, and at this stage I'm relying on the offering of incentives to returning customers. Maximising PR is also essential.

The long-term solution will be a partnership deal. I'm currently in discussions with one of the digital TV systems, and am also talking to one of the major WAP players about a WAP linkage to QAZ.

Is it realistic for someone with your journalistic background to set up an Internet company -- is this too big a career change?

I'm always interested in good things -- QAZ comes out of my frustration with existing search engines. It's great fun building things. Programming is a way of creating something at virtually no cost. 98 per cent of this company has come out of my back pocket, or as a product of my physical work.

Journalists can have an infinite number of good ideas, but they can't ever do anything with them.

Do you think that QAZ has received unfair publicity as a result of your business associations?

It is true that I have been given media attention by the Independent, but QAZ was reviewed by someone that I didn't know. I have used my experience and position, but I haven't abused it. I haven't ever misrepresented myself. It would be a legitimate worry if people were bending over backwards to help me unfairly, but the reviews that the site has had so far have all been based on press releases.

Startup Spotlight is a weekly feature on ZDNet UK News and ZDNet techTrader, featuring the bright sparks of the UK's high-tech startup industry. For more of the faces behind the news see the Startup Spotlight archive.

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